empathy in development: morality verse empathy

I asked my brilliant friend Stevie Dunning to contribute to the ongoing conversation concerning empathy and our work as international development professionals. This guest post is part of an ongoing series exploring the new buzzword (empathy). You can learn more about Stevie below and the series here.


I worked at an international criminal tribunal following my master’s program in 2012/3. For months prior, I meticulously analyzed the effects of various transitional justice mechanisms on reconciliation – eyeing how various spaces, states or “communal groups” balanced their own experience with that of their “hostile neighbors.” Ultimately, this was entrenched in the notion that humans are concerned with, or have a great respect for, tenets of morality.

I leaned on empathy when it came to identifying, or even advocating on behalf of, policies/strategies [namely pedagogy and history curricula] I believed crucial to reconciling one’s identity with one’s trauma, including with one’s perpetrators. I came to understand, and even believe, that such spatial “restorations” required “feeling into” (the German translation of Einfühlung [empathy]) the perspective or reality of another.

Before each judgment, it was primarily a mini-circus of journalists perched on their editorial agendas, along with some practitioners or dignitaries; and for “bigger” cases, victims and family members. Typically, it was fairly underwhelming – likely on account of the conflict having occurred over twenty years ago. However, in terms of attendance, I think it was 60/40 split between those waiting to see “international justice” stumble and “one’s” perpetrators behind bars. Additionally, numerous employees at the Tribunal were from the Balkans, and many lived through the war. Present realities, relationships, and effects – what was pulsing within and without the Tribunal – were not given the same respect as the past. It was tough going for empathy.

For “high-ranking” acquittals, I noticed that some victims would repeatedly return to the same courtrooms for different trials, answer the same questions, see the same blank expressions from defendants, and hear the same responses from judges. I always wanted to ask, “Do you feel released? Understood? Safer? Vindicated?” I obviously could never understand their experience, and had nothing aside from the assumptions I conjured from academia, and during my brief time in Serbia and at the Tribunal.

There was this one woman who had been coming to testify at the Tribunal for years. After one particular high-level official was given a life sentence, she ran up to his wife and children after the judgment, and with venom cursed the wife. In short and via translation, she told his wife that she would never remove her black dress; she wished her to die in it.

I wondered if this moment would stick with this woman, if she would wrap it around herself in a moment of sorrow, confusion, or anger. I also wondered how it would remain with the convicted man’s family. Will it be a story that passes between great grandchildren after too many drinks at dinner? One of shame? A forgettable memory in the face of so many others? Whatever the answer, it ultimately revealed that the past, present, and future of both parties will remain severed and traumatized.

This moment startled me not only for its hostility and pain, but also because I saw the resignation, and almost expectation, from my own colleagues who were from the region. On this particular day, a Bosnian colleague in my department wore an “anarchy” T-Shirt, which prompted me to speak with a few second-generation colleagues [those who didn’t grow up in the Balkans] who were rumored to be leaving. Their reasons were split between fear [that people from their community would discover they worked at the Tribunal] and disgust. Disgust became an important identifier for me, because it helped me place those “moral gut reactions” – in this case, in response to a conviction or acquittal. There was not always an easy “answer” to one’s disgust – it simply felt wrong, immoral, or unsatisfying. There was a lot of feeling evoked, but it wasn’t connected to any one else’s. 

I saw that no court of law, or international view on morality, could enable one to “feel into” another’s experience, because its function was based on definitively ruling one party to be wrong and one to be right. It created hierarchies in everything: victimization; morality; and now, feeling. How could an institution ranking the human experience feasibly interact with, let alone facilitate, empathy for those involved? Each identity was bound to the same emotional response – “We feared.” – but there was no moral connection to the motivations or reactions.

Ultimately, this shows a staunch divide between morality and empathy; or rather a significant barrier to overcome in the face of addressing and accounting for (universal) wrongs (e.g. rape, genocide, ethnic cleansing). If empathy is indeed what makes us human, what can be practically facilitated in international relations, development, or in our basic interactions, is the notion that the lives of others have the same value as our own, and those within our “immediate” community. This experience prompted my view that it isboth more realistic and imperative to connect feelings and experience before developing or relying on a standard gauge or reflection of morality.

Stevie Dunning is a freelance writer/editor with an MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies, King's College London, and works within the executive office at The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, DC. Her main focus is transitional justice, diasporas and ethno-national identities. You can follow her on Twitter @steviEDUnning_

world urban forum: crowdsourcing a workshop focused on participatory design

I just returned from Medellin where the 7th United Nations World Urban Forum (WUF) was being hosted. I was there with American Planning Association, and in partnership with Architecture For Humanity Bogota Chapter, Fundacion Juligon, and CTS-EMBARQ we were tasked with hosting a panel on innovative methodologies for community participation. I wont get into details about the conference or the city of eternal spring (which, by the way, has every reason to claim that title), but I wanted to quickly share how we crowdsourced our panel turned workshop. 

Before the forum actually took place our team had a few calls where we all agreed that we did not want to host your traditional type of panel. Meaning, we did not want a panel where the panelists end up talking at you, rather than involving you in the discussion. We wanted something a little more dynamic and where participants would learn by doing. We weren't too sure how that would look like, but we knew it would include leading the participants through various participatory design activities/tools all of us have directly used with communities.

A few days before the panel we had conference goers answer this above question,” What are the community participation challenges in your project?”  

We reviewed all the answers and saw five major themes. 


5 themes

 We designed our workshop based off these responses.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 1.02.44 PM.png

The result—a dynamic workshop where participants left with tangible tools that they could directly implement in their projects and the communities with which they collaborate. 


february videos that are good conversation starters.

Below are a few videos from February that I keep going back to for inspiration, have forwarded to others, and/or have provided some good conversation starters.

The Samaritans

The Office meets a small NGO (Aid for Aid) in Kenya. The "Acronym" episode hits a little too close to home. 

This Is What Everyday Sexism Feels Like... to a Man

This starts off humorous and turns dark (read, real) in the most subtle of ways. 

Ira Glass on Storytelling

"Nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish someone would have told this to me, is that all of us who do creative work... we get into it because we have good taste. But there is a gap, that the first couple years you are making stuff, what you're making isn't so good...."

Great lesson in creativity and forming your craft from one of the world's best storytellers. If you want even more poignant and helpful advice from Ira check out the full four part interview on YouTube. I was most shocked by the part where he critiqued his own newscast eight years into his career. 

Happy viewing!



reggie black: remove the fear


Though social media can be overwhelming at times, I am so thankful for the opportunity it provides to connect to audacious* individuals like Reggie Black. Everyday Reggie takes to Instagram to write a simple message on a sticky note; messages like, "Communicating your expectations is much better than cheating yourself," and "Ignore temporary defeat. Always remember who you are and what you are made of." He then leaves these sticky notes in random places around the city, hoping whoever comes across it will be pushed and inspired to live a much more fulfilling life. From the several comments he receives on Instagram it is evident that these little acts of kindness are doing exactly that. This creative endeavor of his is called Sticky Inspiration.

Reggie and I took a walk around H Street NE to talk about Sticky Inspiration, creative confidence, and living fearlessly. You can find the recording below. 

Reggie is hosting a Kickstarter right now to support "Remove The Fear: Creative Experience." He and a few friends will take a fully functional family residence in Washington DC, and in less than 30 days (with your help) will strip it down, and completely transform the house from a residence to a 30 Hour pop-up creative experience and art exhibit. They already have the house they just need your support to get the materials needed! 

Thank you Reggie for your time, your knowledge, and your overall positive perspective on life. I am so excited for you and all the amazing things you are bound to do! 

You can find Reggie at @iamreggieblack. 



*Though I don't get into it here, Reggie is a man who truly has not let anything hold him back. He has done and continues to do whatever it takes to stay true to his passions and what he wants to get out of life. Some might call him a risk-taker, I call him audacious. 

a roadtrip through southern mexico.

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.


Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road."

Song of the Open Road//Walt Whitman


If you were to look up the word content in the Katalina Mayorga Life Dictionary, the open road would certainly be cited. There is something so satisfying about a long stretch of paved (sometimes unpaved; i.e. the Pan-American) highway.  It had been some time since Sam and I had hopped in a car for fun, so we decided to end 2013 with a road trip through the Yucatan Peninsula of Southern Mexico. We arrived at Cancun International Airport at 6:30 and we were on the Mexico 180 by 7:30. Of course, no road trip would be a road trip without its hiccups. Ours happened to have many-- particularly on this first stretch-- that included bribing, hawking of goods that were worth parting with, and a frantic scramble for an ATM. However, any memory of those slight annoyances immediately fell to the wayside as soon as we stepped into our stunning AirBnB.

Our house was a perfect blend of modern minimalism that paid reverence to the colonial foundation it was built on.

The pool

The pool

Day 2: Touring Merida.

I was obviously enamored with Merida's brightly textured walls.

Day 3: We wanted to hit the road early to get to the Il Kil cenote. Unfortunately (which later turned out to be fortunately), Sam and I found ourselves in the same predicament we were in on Day 1 of the trip—we did not have enough money for an unexpected toll. A few swear words later; we were again on the hunt for a functioning ATM. We were directed towards the town of Izamal.

What we didn’t know about Izamal is how breathtaking it is. How had we not heard about it? Every building, bank, market, standing wall was painted this deep marigold yellow. It was a sea of yellow and an ancient Franciscan convent was the main attraction.

Franciscan convent built in 1554.

After a few hours of exploration we got back on the road and headed to Il Kil, a freshwater sinkhole outside the town of Piste. Il Kil has been on my bucket list ever since I saw it on one of those National Geographic World Wonders (or something like that) slideshow

Yup it was stunning and worth the drive. And please excuse my frantic breathing.  I know how to tread water, I promise!! And it is not that hard. I played water polo for Christ’s sake, so I don't know what my deal is. :)

Day 4: Tulum. This was our second time in Tulum, and every time I struggle to explain why Tulum is such a special and unique little beach town. I feel like I am never doing it justice. Cue pictures….


Swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumel Bay.


The best massages at the serene Coqui Coqui.

Kayaking/swimming through Casa Cenote

Kayaking/swimming through Casa Cenote

And for good measure, some extra goods...

Favorite place to eat: Las Ranitas and the larger than your head proportions at Camellos.

Favorite place to do yoga: Hotel Maya 


women communicating the everyday battles of a relationship through soccer metaphors.

The Spanish Magazine, Líbero, just came out with a brilliant marketing series, Si te lo explican con fútbol (If they explain it through soccer..); women communicating the everyday battles of a relationship through soccer metaphors. So good! 

If you do not speak Spanish, I think you can appreciate the magazine and clean design across the board.


See the whole series here

home feature in refinery29


Refinery29 visited our Washington DC rowhome about a month ago. We bought this house in February of 2013 and have been doing most of the renovations ourselves. Though it has been a lot of work, it has been rewarding, and we were honored that they wanted to feature it on their website. You can see more pictures here and learn about carrying out a renovation on a pretty tight budget. Hint- DIY tutorials and Craigslist save searches.  


how to help typhoon haiyan victims

tacloban (photo by the AP)

Words, pictures... nothing can really express the utter devastation Typhoon Haiyan has caused the people of the Phillipines. These are the moments I feel helpless and have to ask myself if anything will ever change when these horrific disasters and its consequences are really a reflection of a global calamity happening at the highest levels of bureaucracy. Climate change is moving forward at full force with a trajectory of epic proportions that our governments and Fortune 500's are not doing close to enough to stem. What is even worse is that those that are the most vulnerable in our world are those that are the hardest hit. They did the least to contribute to climate change, but somehow are left to heed the brunt of the burden when it comes to unsustainable "economic growth."

Despite feeling helpless there is always something one can do. Check out this Huffington Post article for a full list of ways to support relief efforts. If you are eager to donate now you can quickly text the word "aid" to 27722 and you will be donating $10 to the World Food Programme.


human centered design and public spaces in mexico city

A colleague and I originally wrote the below article for American Planning Associations: Sustainable Places blog. You can find it here.  --sustainablemexico

As with many Latin American cities, Mexico City has had a long history of creating, renovating, and making the most of civic spaces.

Since prehispanic times, the city’s public spaces have played an integral role in its urban and economic structure. Large esplanades were spaces not only for recreation, but for transit, public markets, and religious ceremonies. The Spanish redesign of the city kept this social pattern alive, by constructing emblematic plazas and parks; public spaces integral to public life for more than five centuries.

Mexico City’s local government has recently put considerable effort in recovering this tradition by establishing a Public Space Authority (AEP in Spanish) in 2008, a one-of-a-kind institution whose main purpose is to plan and manage the cities varied open spaces. AEP has since focused on and invested considerable resources in the renovation of the city’s most important public spaces, which had been negated decades prior.

While Mexico City’s recently renovated plazas are extremely popular and beautiful in design, the current administration realized that much of the city’s communities do not have close access to quality public spaces. This lack of public life entails a missed opportunity for safe, healthy, and productive lifestyles, and a serious problem of road and public safety. Thus, AEP has shifted their focus to an innovative strategy that is focused on renovating small public spaces citywide.

The top-down mandate dependent on bottom-up solutions, “Public Pocket Park Strategy,” has been concurrent with EMBARQ Mexico’s interest in promoting the creation of a network of public spaces that can feed the city’s expanding public transit systems. However, given the scale and nature of these projects, something was evidently lacking: community involvement.

What is Human Centered Design?

In 2012 EMBARQ Mexico was the recipient of the APA Energy and Climate Partnership of Americas grant. EMBARQ Mexico was selected for its innovative pilot project that sought to improve Mexico City’s deficit of public space through pocket parks while simultaneously serving as a case study for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) strategies. The purpose of the project is to improve the quality of life for residents, act as a platform to trigger public life, and make more walkable and attractive spaces.

As part of this grant EMBARQ Mexico has been leading a multi-stakeholder effort to ensure the pocket park design process is guided by a set of tools based in a methodology called Human Centered Design (HCD). HCD is unique in that the creative method begins directly with the people who you are designing for. All assumptions of a community are left behind and instead we seek to understand the needs, behaviors, and dreams of the community that will be impacted by the project. Once we understand what the community desires we continue to engage them by having them actively participate in the development of tangible solutions.

This process may seem laborious and time consuming, but time and time again, we have found that involving the community from the beginning actually saves huge amounts of money and time, and leads to more sustainable solutions. Here are five reasons why:


Ideas: One principle that is important to acknowledge when using methods such as HCD, is that the experts of the community are the community members themselves. Often as technical professionals, we are simply playing the role of a facilitator. They understand the needs of the community more than any outside observer could, because they live and work in it every day. Often what was missing was the space and platform to do that. HCD allows for that.

Because of this they are able to create some incredible and creative solutions to their own problems. One excellent example is the “Lombribancas” project, found at Mexico City’s La Condesa. Neighbors and community organizations appropriated a small part of a median to install compost benches and spice-gardens that not only embellishes the previously unoccupied space, but also provides local resources for nearby restaurants.

Money: In the various projects involving HCD, we have seen that the best solutions are the most simple and straightforward solutions involving little resources. One of Mexico City’s most recent public space solutions involves the creation of “Park-Es,” a parklet that sits on top of a small truck bed and can be deployed in any two parking spots of a street. Although the project is dependent in a strong initial investment by a Community Organization, its long-term benefits easily surpass them.

Time: Because the solutions are extracted directly from the community, we already know the community supports them. This allows for rapid implementation with community help during the construction process. For example, La Cuadra A.C. is an established civic organization that has supported various community-centered projects around central Mexico City. Their projects are frequently cheap to build (because of the strategic collaborations they form) and quick to implement, some of them taking place over the span of a single weekend.

Democracy: The process is a true representation of democracy at all levels. Rather than having an outside entity come in and build a space with little input, we are instead promoting a participatory process. We are sourcing opinions and ideas from the many and letting everyone have an equal voice during the planning process. This builds trust with the community, which is critical to the acceptance of a particular project. The community has been made aware of the endeavor from the beginning, and so they are more likely to champion the final product and future endeavors by your organization. They know their voice will be heard and their opinions seriously considered.

Sustainability: What is most important in any public space project is that the space continues to thrive and be used by the community long after the ribbon cutting. When a community has been involved in the development of the space from day one, the sense of pride and responsibility to keep it clean and usable is substantial. For example the pocket park of Mercado of Medellin in the neighborhood of Condesa was selected as an ideal location because the restaurant it borders had committed to the daily cleanup of the park. They knew having that public space would attract more space and ultimately be good for their business.

Moving Forward

In many respects, Mexico City’s Public Pocket Park Strategy is so innovative that it has no clear precedent. On the one hand, Mexican local governments are unaccustomed with combining planning and community outreach endeavors, sometimes having no experience in community participation, as is the case with the Public Space Authority. We believe that pocket parks are a perfect testing ground for the development of new tools and methodologies, such as HCD, that actively engage communities and coalesce local interests and efforts.

The main outcome of the Public Pocket Park Strategy (community engagement in the design process) should go farther than the renovation of public spaces, and also train key stakeholders in these specific types of methodologies. Thus, EMBARQ Mexico and APA hosted a two-day HCD workshop for various stakeholders involved in the pocket park initiative. These stakeholders included technical, legal, and community experts from both Mexico City’s Delegations (local authorities) and its ministries of Urban Development, Environment and Road & Transit. By the end of the second day, participants had seen case studies from all around the world of innovative, but simple and easily replicable, public space projects that were based in the principles of HCD. Additionally, participants walked away with concrete HCD tools and activities they could immediately adopt and infuse into their current work.

APA and EMBARQ’s final deliverable for the grant is set to be a toolkit for community participation in small-scale urban projects.

We believe that the Public Pocket Park Strategy is a long-term endeavor that could quickly pick up steam in Mexico City, with the potential of rapid scalability nation-wide. A network of small public spaces can be substantially quicker and cheaper to build and can potentially encourage sustainable mobility throughout the city, encouraging walking, biking, and social interaction. If the strategy proves to be successful, a network of community-endorsed, economically viable pocket parks can lead to a higher quality of life for its residents and a more resilient and sustainable city.

APA would also like to thank our technical experts in this project who have provided ongoing support and guidance: T. Luke Young (Architecture for Humanity), Jesus Porras (Architecture for Humanity), and Luis Saenz Garcia (Independent Consultant)

If you are interested in learning more about APA’s work in Mexico contact us through APA’s Sustainable and Inclusive Housing and Community Development Program homepage.

The Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) Urban Planning Initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of State and led by APA. This initiative supports Latin American and Caribbean based planning projects geared towards addressing the challenges presented by climate change. The ECPA Urban Planning Initiative supports local projects that help Latin American and Caribbean cities to become more energy efficient, economically robust, and equitable; furthering these urban environments’ resiliency to climate change. Learn more atwww.planning.org/international/ecpa/.

Katalina Mayorga is a contractor with APA working on ECPA II as the project coordinator for the CTS-Mexico grant. Claudio Sarmiento is the CTS-EMBARQ project lead for the ECPA II grant that was awarded to them in 2012.

Image: Mexican government officials and community members participate in a Human Centered Design Training hosted by APA and CTS-EMBARQ. Photo by Luis Saenz Garcia.

some rules for workshops focused on training of trainers

WORKSHOP I asked a few colleagues what were their first thoughts and feelings that come to mind when they hear the word workshop. The response was more negative than positive.

When I hear “workshop,” I usually get prepared to listen to a lot of presentations, take a lot of notes, and drink a lot of coffee that day. Workshops rarely engage those that they are meant to enlighten.

As a consultant I have assisted in the design and development of numerous workshops for technical staff that are usually dubbed a "training of trainers". My priority is always to create a curriculum that engages the audience in a dynamic way where they learn by doing. Here are some basic rules I try to follow to have an effective workshop.

  1. Always have two individuals on hand that are solely in charge of taking pictures and taking notes throughout the workshop. This should not be someone who facilitates or leads any part of the workshop. I usually try to task interns with these important roles as they benefit from participation in the workshop. If possible, it is always great to have someone filming the event. I know this seems tedious, but I can’t tell you how many times I have come back to the footage for reference or used it for promotional materials.
  2. Start with an icebreaker. This one always seems to be a hit.
  3. Have the agenda written up on large pieces of paper so participants can refer to it throughout the day. Review the agenda with participants so they understand that there is a logical sequence of events that follows a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  4. Whatever the subject matter may be, case studies are always a great starting point. It shows the audience that others have tackled the challenge at hand while providing them ideas to spur creative solutions. You should have no more than three case studies at a time and the presentation for each should be no more than 15 minutes. I have found that 45 minutes is a good point to stop before people start getting restless and checking their phones etc.
  5. Case studies should be followed by activities. This seems to be an effective transition because participants can use case studies as “fuel to the idea fodder” for the activities that follow. More importantly, activities are critical because there is nothing more powerful than learning by doing. That's how ideas stick.
  6. Activities should be done in groups of 6-8 and each group should have a moderator.
  7. Wrap-ups are a good way to end because you can quickly gauge overall effectiveness of the workshop. More importantly, you can help plan out next steps so that participants leave with a clear pathway to success.
  8. Have participants fill out a quick feedback form (it should take no more than 5 minutes to fill out), so you know what areas of the workshop you may need to tweak and improve upon in the future. Constructive criticism is always a good thing.

Hope some of these points are helpful!


P.S. This is very different from a workshop that would be focused on designing a solution(s) to a specific challenge. The workshops referenced above are usually focused on training professionals in specific methodologies or areas of expertise. I promise to post on the other types of workshops soon!


Photo Aug 29, 4 43 19 PMI am a huge lover of photography. I love capturing that "perfect shot," being creative in my framing, chasing the perfect light, and whatever else comes along with being a hobbyist photographer. Traveling for both fun and work has always provided me with a multitude of beautiful environments and subjects, but the familiar sound of a camera click has always been followed with this nagging guilt. Yes the kids in the community I was visiting were adorable, and yes they giggled while reviewing the images on my screen, but was it really fair that I got a great image to share with others on social media, and well... they were really left with nothing?

For the past year I have been trying to brainstorm ways I could ease this guilt. I decided if there was anyway I could leave the picture behind, we (whoever I am taking the picture of and I) would both get something out of the photography exchange. We would both get memories. Polaroids were what first came to mind, but the price of an almost extinct form of  film made that less of a reality. Then I saw in my Instagram feed these pictures of pictures that kind of looked like Polaroids, but had the hashtag #instax. "Hmmm...," I thought, "maybe this could work."

So now the very affordable Instax 7S  is one of the first items I pack.

Below are some shots from my first attempt at a more ethical practice of photography specifically while traveling through developing countries. I have to say that I now feel pretty great seeing folks get excited as they watch the film slowly develop, and even more ecstatic when they realize they get to keep the photo.

You can follow along on instagram and twitter with the hashtag #leaveyourpicturebehind. I would love it if you joined me so I can see where you #leaveyourpicturebehind.

Photo Aug 26, 4 03 04 PM  Photo Aug 29, 4 48 42 PM Photo Aug 29, 5 02 13 PM



empathy in development: what is empathy?

honduraskids2007 (picture taken by me in Honduras) 

So first things first. I decided to name this series Empathy In Development. There are two reasons for this; the primary one being a literal translation. I want to focus on empathy in international development. It is a pretty hot "buzzword" without extensive discussion of how it actually plays out in the field. What does having a higher level of empathy actually mean for the outcomes of a project or program? Who in the field is actively strengthening their own understanding of empathy to develop untraditional outcomes for their projects?  The other reason I decided to go with Empathy In Development, is simply because I want to explore how you can develop and strengthen one's own level of empathy. This is slightly different then my original post. In my original post I was interested in how one can be "taught" empathy. I came to the conclusion that "taught" might not the best word to use in this discussion. After much reading and reflection, I now understand that we all start out with some sort of basic level of empathy, and that it is a habit we can cultivate to help guide our actions.

Beyond deciding a name for the series, I also wanted to make sure we started this journey on the same page by defining empathy. There are three organizations (correct me if I am wrong and please send me additional information) that have pioneered and/or are leading this whole discussion of empathy in international development: Ashoka, Acumen, and IDEO.org.

Here is how each organization defines empathy:

Ashoka-- " Applied empathy, therefore, encompasses the abilities to feel and understand another’s perspective, and then act with a concern for the welfare of others. Consequently, empathy requires a number of different skills and aptitudes: emotional literacy, perspective-taking, self-regulation, communication, problem-solving, and more. For individuals, such skills are correlated with greater success in reasoning, collaboration, and academic and professional performance. For communities, a greater empathetic capacity facilitates a greater likelihood of conflict resolution and cooperation."

Acumen-- "Empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else‟s shoes and understand their situation, feelings and motives, is highly valued at Acumen Fund. Empathy enables a social entrepreneur to better understand their customer‟s needs and design  products/services to meet those needs. It enables people with different backgrounds, personalities and points of view to understand each other and start to find ways to work together. It is a necessary ingredient for so many things – good storytelling, sales, fundraising, design, etc. – which is why we think it‟s a core element of good leadership."

IDEO.ORG-- "Building empathy for the people you serve means understanding their behavior and what motivates them. Understanding behavior enables us to identify physical, cognitive, social and/or cultural needs that we can meet through the products, services and experiences we create. This exercise helps us differentiate between observation and interpretation of what we see, revealing our biases and lenses through which we view the world." This is from the Human Centered Design Toolkit.

This dynamic video by Roman Kznaric provides a stronger insight on how we can drive social change by stepping outside our own mental parameters.


Until next time.


P.S. This article on the Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People is the most useful article I have come across so far. It gives clear insight on how one can nurture empathy.

P.P.S. Why I started this project.


a response to peter buffet's charitable-industrial complex.


(Picture by me during a visit to the Amazon of Bolivia. The local electric utility was taking the shells of Brazilian nuts to create electricity for the town.)

I am on a roll with my blog posts! Maybe I am  having some really enlightening conversations as of late or maybe I am skipping out on Real Housewives of Whatever (don't judge) and am being more thoughtful with my free time. Whatever it is, I wanted to add my quick thoughts to the popular article written by Peter Buffet (son of Warren not Jimmy) about "The Charitable-Industrial Complex." I am sure many of you have read the article-- and the follow up commentary that was destined to come-- so I won't recap any of that.

Mr. Buffet's article is a good start to a much larger conversation. The concepts and ideas that "shatter current structures and systems" are already out there. These are amazing individuals who are working extremely hard to dramatically change the lives of the BoP, and I am very fortunate to directly work with some of them. Unfortunately, they do not have the same ability as some larger organizations to get their ideas heard or into the hands of those who have the power to financially jumpstart these organizations to a a more sustainable path so they are able to do what they do best-- innovate. I feel this crux in the "funding supply chain" is the reason the same organizations and the same ideas get huge amounts of money to implement the same types of solutions. The following points are a few ideas to help alleviate the unequal playing field in the funding world:

1) Create more funding mechanisms that actually allow the idea makers and social entrepreneurs to fairly compete with these larger, well organized, and well funded development giants. Additionally, this process needs to be clear and transparent. I think this might be the number one complaint I hear several times over in the social entrepreneurial circle.

2) Provide more support to these organizations as they apply for various RFP's/RFA's/competitions/etc. Many of them do not have the ability to hire seasoned consultants to guide them through the complex world of international financing mechanisms. For many of them this is the first time they are traversing this whole process and just need some transparent guidance during those initial applications.

3) After an exceptional organization has competed and lost, donors need to actively provide them feedback so they have a stronger standing for future funding opportunities. This should not be seen as a burden, but instead an opportunity to leverage the momentum of a good idea while simultaneously uplifting social entrepreneurs and the enterprises they stand behind.

4) Many financial partnerships get their start at development conferences. It is very hard for bootstrapping startups to scrounge up the $1,000+ that is needed to get their foot in the door and thus potentially have their voice heard during important meetings. Donors need to make available more conference scholarships to ensure that social entrepreneurs are having the same opportunities to plant the seeds for relationships with potential funders.


I know this is already happening to some extent, but like with anything it stands to improve... dramatically.


P.S. I came up with a name for the series-- "Empathy In Development." It can be interpreted in two ways. I will explain that  in the next post.